North Carolina is still dancing, thanks to a game-winning shot by Luke Maye with 0.3 seconds left on the clock against the Kentucky Wildcats. The Tar Heels went out to Houston on Tuesday evening, and as we prepare for Saturday’s game against the Oregon Ducks, one has to wonder if UNC can keep dancing, or will one of the other three teams steal the party?
Let’s focus on the team directly in front of them: Oregon. This will be North Carolina’s guaranteed match-up and is the only thing standing in the way of them and getting back to the National Championship game. It is the next stop on their Redemption Tour, which will (hopefully) replace the soul-crushing ending last year with memories of Carolina blue confetti, cutting down the nets and, for fans, another glorious mobbing of Franklin street in jubilation. There’s just one issue: this game seems....familiar.
The Oregon Ducks went on quite a respectable run last year themselves losing in the Elite Eight to Oklahoma. This defeat followed Oregon’s 82-68 destruction of a Duke team led by Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram. One could say that Oregon, much like North Carolina, came back into this year on a mission. From 2013 to present, Oregon has been constantly trying to get through to the Final Four, only to constantly run into very tough competition in the likes of 2013 Louisville (National Champions), ‘14 and 15 versions of Wisconsin (Final Four and National Runner-up), and of course the 2016 Oklahoma team led by one of the best players in the nation, Buddy Hield. This Oregon team has something to prove.
Fast forward to the tournament this year. Following the pattern of years past, and given how many people favored a certain team from the midwest to get to the Final Four and possibly win the National Championship, Oregon finally managed to get over the hump. The narrative has finally changed, a blue blood was slain in what was basically a home game for the Kansas Jayhawks, and Oregon managed to escape Kansas City with a 74-60 win to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1939. Jordan Bell was a monster in the post, Tyler Dorsey continued his post-season dominance, and Josh Jackson had one of the more humbling games of his freshman season after just about fouling out of the game.
So why does this game seem so familiar, you may be asking? Oregon does things as a team that not many North Carolina fans would dare attempt to remember happening last year as it would re-open a wound that is just starting to heal (thanks ESPN and CBS). The University Oregon Fighting Ducks of the 2017 season are familiar because they seem to channel the inner workings of last year’s National Champions. If you would like to stop reading here, I completely understand.
Still with me? You are a brave soul. Lets get to it. The biggest thing about Oregon that is reflective of Villanova that nobody will remember is that Villanova’s defense was designed to confuse and frustrate. Mostly frustrate. Their pressure on the ball was one that clearly bothered the Tar Heels throughout the game. What is scary about Oregon is they have at least one or two more tricks up their sleeve that they love to execute to make opposing teams play their type of game.
Oregon has been known to use full court traps, full court zone, 1-3-1 zone, half court traps, and probably some 2-3 in there. If that isn’t enough, Jordan Bell had eight blocks during the game against Kansas, some of those coming off of moments when the Jayhawks thought they had managed to penetration the defense, only to run into a six-foot-nine wall at the boards. They will definitely have issues with UNC’s height and length, but it will be a challenge for the Heels to maintain composure on offense.
The one saving grace is that UNC has faced what seems like an infinite number of defenses this year. They faced the 2-3 zone an unreal amount of games in a row during the ACC season, they’ve had to deal with a lot of full-court pressure, and they had to deal with Virginia. North Carolina will need to do their best to play a high level of defense and create fast-break points in order to keep Oregon’s defense from getting set and force some of their players into foul trouble and
Unfortunately, there is one more aspect about this team that North Carolina need not not take lightly that is very, very familiar. We all know Tyler Dorsey has been on a tear with a 62.4% FG percentage and shooting 57.8% from 3-point range for the post-season. Jordan Bell has been doing his best to make up for the injury to Chris Boucher, and so far he has done a strong job. One player in this tournament has been easy to overlook, not for sake of bad play but for the sake of Dorsey completely out-performing him in general. That man is Dillon Brooks.
Dillon Brooks has developed quite the propensity to drain buzzer-beating shots. Back in Febuary, it was Brooks who nailed the game-winning shot against Cal in a 68-65 victory. Last December, Brooks managed to hit a buzzer beater against UCLA to beat the Bruins 89-87. Twice might not seem like a lot, but twice is enough to prove that one would be wise not to let Dillon Brooks get open at any point during the final seconds of the game.
Given the nature of a certain shot from a certain player who shall remain nameless, UNC needs to do everything in their power to make sure that anyone taking shots down the wire doesn’t have a number 24 or a number 5 on their jersey. Is that a reaching comparison to make? Probably, but it isn’t worth ignoring as if Oregon isn’t capable of pulling off such a cruel thing. If you need the proof, ask Michigan how close they were to continuing their surprising run.
North Carolina has their hands full Saturday. Oregon is a team out to prove that they belong where they have gotten so far, and the Heels cannot take them lightly during any point of this game. UNC has the size, depth, and overall talent advantage, and all of these things need to be on full display if they hope to put away Oregon and move on to Monday for a shot at the National Championship.